One year later: The New York Times innovation report

By Shane Randall

A senior video correspondent for The New York Times presented an update to its heralded innovation report at the News Xchange conference in Berlin last week. Our international business intelligence manager recapped the speech for us.

A year has passed since The New York Times’ innovation report was revealed. An in-house review of the impact of digital media, it highlighted several recommendations the company should make to alter its existing digital strategy. The report was subsequently leaked and is now seen as one of the most influential documents relating to digital strategic growth for news publishers.

At last week’s News Xchange conference in Berlin, Adam Ellick, senior video correspondent for The Times, presented an update on the report, outlining where the newsroom is one year after “publication.” For me, the speech was one of the highlights of the event.

Setting the scene, Ellick explained that while the media industry is moving fast, readers are moving faster — highlighting the fact that home page visits are continuing to decline while mobile use is growing. More than 60 percent of the organisation’s traffic now comes from mobile, he said.

Expanding on this theme, he believes that the next generation of readers will never pick up a newspaper and may never access them on a desktop. For him, the future growth is in digital and the challenge is how publishers will match the lost revenues in print with those from digital platforms. While no one has quite yet figured out how to do this, Ellick said The Times is solving pieces of the puzzle.

“Real change comes from rethinking from within,” he said.

Most importantly, all of the recommendations made within the report have now been implemented.

Adam Ellick, senior video correspondent for The New York Times, presents at the News Xchange conference in Berlin, Germany, last week.

A closer look

The report focused on two major themes — audience development and adopting a digital-first culture. Ellick said The Times approaches the first in three ways:

- Figuring out where people are discovering their news — The New York Times no longer relies on people finding its stories; the stories have to find people. Newsrooms are actively engaged in this process.

- Letting data inform decisions — the company has built an analytics team and has expanded it within the newsroom. This is about focusing on analytics that show completion rates rather than clicks, and finishing the story. Impact and engagement matter.

- Thinking about audience behaviour — it’s about insights, not numbers. Readers love serious stories.

Within that update, we heard how the newsroom works with Facebook. As a subscriber-based service, it still sees a need for an “off-platform” presence. Potential new subscribers sit elsewhere and the social network is one of the many places The Times showcases its content. Placing content on Facebook also provides the team the ability to enter public conversations about the news.

Regarding the second theme, Ellick said hiring the relevant talent is a priority for changing the company culture. There are now teams in the newsroom that bridge the old siloed commercial and editorial areas. The innovation report also noted that newsrooms should be built out of Legos — not bricks — because the right structure today may not work tomorrow. Adaptability will be a must going forward.

Shane Randall

Shane is the business intelligence manager for The Associated Press for the EMEA and APAC markets. He delivers research and knowledge-based analysis to aid business processes and performance.